Overlong and woodenly earnest, without the leavening wit of Rindell’s The Other Typist (2013), the novel does cohere in its...

EAGLE & CRANE

Harry Yamada and Louis Thorn work together as stunt pilots—close but competitive friends—until World War II upends their lives.

In 1943, an FBI agent named Bonner arrives in Newcastle, California. He's investigating Harry Yamada and his father, Kenichi, who've recently escaped from an internment camp for Japanese-Americans, and wants to know if they've returned to the farm they signed over at the war’s outbreak to their neighbor Louis Thorn, at the time Harry’s flying partner and now a flight instructor for the Air Corps. As Bonner questions 23-year-old Louis on his front porch, the two men are shocked to watch a plane fall out of the sky in a fiery crash. Inside are two bodies, one identifiable as Kenichi, the other charred beyond recognition but assumed to be Harry. Not long afterward, Ava Brooks, who has supposedly been helping Louis care for the Yamadas' orchard, turns up at the house. Soon the novel is moving back and forth in time, interspersing Bonner’s investigation of the crash with the evolving prewar love triangle of Louis, Harry, and Ada—who met in 1940 when the two young pilots joined Ada’s con-artist stepfather’s barnstorming troupe—as well as with the history of the multigenerational feud between the Yamadas, portrayed as upstanding, almost saintly immigrants, and the struggling, less sympathetic Thorns. Bonner’s growing obsession with the case and the mysterious sexual attention he enjoys from the young landlady of a Newcastle boardinghouse are two of the contrived threads with which Rindell (Three-Martini Lunch, 2016, etc.) eventually ties up the flimsy plot. While the Yamadas’ unfair treatment clearly alludes to today’s immigrant experience, what is more developed is the character study of Louis Thorn, who faces conflicted loyalties and complex moral choices.

Overlong and woodenly earnest, without the leavening wit of Rindell’s The Other Typist (2013), the novel does cohere in its attempt to plumb the complexities of love and hate.

Pub Date: July 3, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-399-18429-1

Page Count: 448

Publisher: Putnam

Review Posted Online: April 16, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 2018

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Miller makes Homer pertinent to women facing 21st-century monsters.

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CIRCE

A retelling of ancient Greek lore gives exhilarating voice to a witch.

“Monsters are a boon for gods. Imagine all the prayers.” So says Circe, a sly, petulant, and finally commanding voice that narrates the entirety of Miller’s dazzling second novel. The writer returns to Homer, the wellspring that led her to an Orange Prize for The Song of Achilles (2012). This time, she dips into The Odyssey for the legend of Circe, a nymph who turns Odysseus’ crew of men into pigs. The novel, with its distinctive feminist tang, starts with the sentence: “When I was born, the name for what I was did not exist.” Readers will relish following the puzzle of this unpromising daughter of the sun god Helios and his wife, Perse, who had negligible use for their child. It takes banishment to the island Aeaea for Circe to sense her calling as a sorceress: “I will not be like a bird bred in a cage, I thought, too dull to fly even when the door stands open. I stepped into those woods and my life began.” This lonely, scorned figure learns herbs and potions, surrounds herself with lions, and, in a heart-stopping chapter, outwits the monster Scylla to propel Daedalus and his boat to safety. She makes lovers of Hermes and then two mortal men. She midwifes the birth of the Minotaur on Crete and performs her own C-section. And as she grows in power, she muses that “not even Odysseus could talk his way past [her] witchcraft. He had talked his way past the witch instead.” Circe’s fascination with mortals becomes the book’s marrow and delivers its thrilling ending. All the while, the supernatural sits intriguingly alongside “the tonic of ordinary things.” A few passages coil toward melodrama, and one inelegant line after a rape seems jarringly modern, but the spell holds fast. Expect Miller’s readership to mushroom like one of Circe’s spells.

Miller makes Homer pertinent to women facing 21st-century monsters.

Pub Date: April 10, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-316-55634-7

Page Count: 400

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: Jan. 23, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2018

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The writing is merely serviceable, and one can’t help but wish the author had found a way to present her material as...

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THE TATTOOIST OF AUSCHWITZ

An unlikely love story set amid the horrors of a Nazi death camp.

Based on real people and events, this debut novel follows Lale Sokolov, a young Slovakian Jew sent to Auschwitz in 1942. There, he assumes the heinous task of tattooing incoming Jewish prisoners with the dehumanizing numbers their SS captors use to identify them. When the Tätowierer, as he is called, meets fellow prisoner Gita Furman, 17, he is immediately smitten. Eventually, the attraction becomes mutual. Lale proves himself an operator, at once cagey and courageous: As the Tätowierer, he is granted special privileges and manages to smuggle food to starving prisoners. Through female prisoners who catalog the belongings confiscated from fellow inmates, Lale gains access to jewels, which he trades to a pair of local villagers for chocolate, medicine, and other items. Meanwhile, despite overwhelming odds, Lale and Gita are able to meet privately from time to time and become lovers. In 1944, just ahead of the arrival of Russian troops, Lale and Gita separately leave the concentration camp and experience harrowingly close calls. Suffice it to say they both survive. To her credit, the author doesn’t flinch from describing the depravity of the SS in Auschwitz and the unimaginable suffering of their victims—no gauzy evasions here, as in Boy in the Striped Pajamas. She also manages to raise, if not really explore, some trickier issues—the guilt of those Jews, like the tattooist, who survived by doing the Nazis’ bidding, in a sense betraying their fellow Jews; and the complicity of those non-Jews, like the Slovaks in Lale’s hometown, who failed to come to the aid of their beleaguered countrymen.

The writing is merely serviceable, and one can’t help but wish the author had found a way to present her material as nonfiction. Still, this is a powerful, gut-wrenching tale that is hard to shake off.

Pub Date: Sept. 4, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-06-279715-5

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Harper/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: July 17, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2018

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